A Privacy-Minded Vision for Social Networking” and thought it was either a deathbed conversion, a cynical ploy to avoid regulation and reassure users, or even just an absurd musing that the company has no intention of carrying out (much like the “Clear History” feature it announced almost a year ago, which has yet to materialize).
I know I thought, at various points, all three of the above, and lots of other things to boot.
It’s even possible that you took Mr. Zuckerberg at his word, as former Microsoft wunderman Steven Sinofsky did, and credited him with realizing which way the winds are blowing and moving there with thoughtfulness and haste.
In fact, Zuckerberg’s essay was likely about none of those things, nor was it about privacy at all (more on that later).
It was about WeChat, WhatsApp, and iMessage.
Zuckerberg’s post, minus the PR, was a product road map. It’s aimed at adapting his business to counter one of the only remaining competitive threats to Facebook and Instagram: messaging. And it was a clever way to dress up that pivot as a consumer-friendly privacy play. Win, win!
Molly Wood (@mollywood) is an Ideas contributor at WIRED and the host and senior editor ofMarketplace Tech, a daily national radio broadcast covering the business of technology. She has covered the tech industry at CNET,The New York Times, and in various print, television, digital and audio formats for nearly 20 years. (Ouch.)
Facebook, the core product, is collapsing. I know that seems like a strong statement given the company’s 2 billion users, but, in fact, the News Feed is a wasteland of reposted memories, divisive propaganda, and the occasional baby picture. US users are abandoning it by the millions, user growth is flat, and personal sharing has been on the decline for years.
Regulation and even antitrust investigations are looming. Even a handful of advertisers are starting to move on, and the company’s brand reputation is sinking fast—a recent Axios poll put it at 94 out of 100, ahead of only the likes of the US government, Trump.org, Phillip Morris, and Wells Fargo.
Yes, Instagram looks like the next best hope for the empire, and certainly a lot of users leaving Facebook are landing on Insta. But it’s still a distant second in terms of usage, and while Facebook is bullishly pushing advertisers toward Stories, they bring in far less revenue than News Feed ads. Also, as Instagram’s product roadmap starts to look more and more like Facebook’s, the app could get a lot less appealing.
And if you really look at what teens, in particular, are doing, itincludessocial media, but by almost every measure, they’re texting. The biggest threat to Facebook and Instagram is messaging, and that’s why, if you strip away all the window dressing about privacy, this is the paragraph that matters most:
“Today we already see that private messaging, ephemeral stories, and small groups are by far the fastest growing areas of online communication. There are a number of reasons for this. Many people prefer the intimacy of communicating one-on-one or with just a few friends. People are more cautious of having a permanent record of what they’ve shared. And we all expect to be able to do things like payments privately and securely.”
China’s WeChat is the model that Zuckerberg almost certainly has in mind. It has about a billion users; combines messaging and calling with apps, payments, communications, and commerce; and essentially functions as a proxy for the internet for its users—who spend well over an hour a day us
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